DeKALB – Not every graduating college senior can say they climbed a mountain in Indonesia, interned on Capitol Hill or visited an island with komodo dragons. Rachel Jacob, a senior at Northern Illinois University from Long Grove, can.
Jacob also can say that she is considered NIU’s top graduating senior.
On Saturday, Jacob received the Student Lincoln Laureate Award and was inducted into the Order of Lincoln at a ceremony in Springfield at the Old State Capitol. The award honors one senior from each of the four-year, degree-granting institutions in Illinois for overall excellence, in both curricular and extra-curricular programs. The student is often considered the top senior of their graduating class.
When receiving the award, recipients also receive the Abraham Lincoln Civic Engagement Certificate, a $1,000 monetary grant and a medal to wear at graduation.
Jacob, who is majoring in history and political science and minoring in southeast Asian studies at NIU, was nominated for the award by both the history and political science departments.
In addition to succeeding academically, Jacob also keeps busy with extracurricular activities. She is president of her sorority, Alpha Phi, a Research Rookies peer mentor and NIU Student Association president, the first female elected to the post in more than two decades.
Jacob spoke to MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton over the phone about the Student Lincoln Laureate Award and her plans for the future after graduating NIU in spring 2018.
Milton: What is the Student Lincoln Laureate Award?
Jacob: It is an award given by every four-year degree-granting institution in the state. The institution you attend nominates you to receive the award. I was nominated for the award by both of my departments, history and political science. I received two letters of support from the chairs of each department. Then, university administrators interview the nominees and they select one finalist. The person they pick is considered NIU’s top graduating senior for the class of 2018.
Milton: Can you tell me more about receiving the award?
Jacob: When I received the award, I received a $1,000 check, a certificate and a medal to wear at graduation. The award was presented by Gov. [Bruce] Rauner in Springfield at the Old State Capitol. The award commemorates President Abraham Lincoln and his values and spirit. I was allowed to bring two guests, so my mom and dad came with me. Dr. Beatrix Hoffman, the professor of history that nominated me, also attended.
Milton: Were you top of your class in high school, too?
Jacob: In high school, even though I got good grades, my priorities were not as academic. I thought I wanted to dance professionally. I taught dance and religious education for a few years. However, I have always known that I wanted to go to law school.
Milton: Why are you interested in law school?
Jacob: I don’t want to be a lawyer, I want to be involved in government. In the future, I would love to be a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Department of State, preferably in Asia. I spent two summers in Indonesia and hope to go back next summer. Right now, I am applying for scholarships and for law school. I am taking entrance exams and hope to attend law school near the D.C. area.
Milton: What interests you about southeast Asia?
Jacob: I learned about Cambodia and Indonesia during a case study for my international politics class. NIU has one of the best Southeast Asian Studies departments in the country, and it is well-known for its program. Indonesia is the fourth most populated country and the most populous Muslim country. I have lived in rural Indonesia and in the city. It is very tropical, since it is a maritime country in southeast Asia. It has skyscrapers, volcanoes and rice fields. There is so much to see and do. It is a very important country because it is developing so quickly.
Milton: What is your reaction to being chosen NIU’s “top graduating senior?”
Jacob: Nobody sits there and thinks, “I’m the top graduating senior.” Even though I was very excited when told I won the award, I try to remain as humble as possible. Awards don’t define you. I think back to all of the awards I didn’t win, and I think that’s what defines you. I continue to do my best. I’m doing what I’m passionate about, and that’s great, that’s what I’m happy about.